Agricultural Organizations

With the last few weeks of school wrapping up I have had time to reflect on my college career. What I concluded was that all of my best memories were made while I was participating in an organization activity. As expected, most of my extra circulars involved an Ag based organization. But I think that’s pretty unique, to go to a Big Ten university and have a whole college dedicated to Agriculture with  numerous organizations that promote the industry. You don’t see that everyday.

So what organizations did I spend most of my time in? Well first would be the Badger Dairy Club, one of the largest student orgs on campus actually! It is an organization that has a large alumni support and a membership filled with hard working, professional and passionate individuals. I have never in my entire life been surrounded by more well rounded peers. Unfortunately this past year was a bit of a rocky road for BDC due to unforeseen circumstances last year but I am proud to say that I was part of the team that got BDC back on track. In this club I met some of my best friends, I have built my resume and have traveled across the US and Canada to see some of the greatest farms in North America.

Another activity that I spent a lot of time in was Dairy Judging. When you go to class to tell them that you won’t be there due to being on the UW-Madison Dairy Judging team you usually get some kind of side glance (for those not in the ag school). I usually try to compare it to the row team or something to that extent. My judging experience was pretty unique, as a freshmen coming in we had brand new coaches, Chad Wethal and Brain Kelroy. Throughout  the years we consistently got better and better. We traveled from the Mid West to the East Coast, won contests throughout and finally when our last and most important contest came around, we won. It was an extra special moment because it was our coaches first team they had from the beginning and well, we won a damn national title! Judging was probably my most favorite extra curricular and I would encourage anyone to go out for the team, you will not regret your time.

And finally, the last organization I spent a great deal of time in is the Association of Women in Agriculture, a professional sorority on campus that creates an environment for like minded women all sharing a passion for agriculture. I met all of my girlfriends through AWA, even lived in the AWA house with 25 other girls! Being able to go to a place where you can talk to a fellow sister and can get help on any issue is a reassuring feeling when you live away from your family.

So to say the least, although I am sad that my time at Madison is coming to an end, I couldn’t have had a better experience. And because of the opportunities these organizations gave me I feel prepared and excited for the next chapter in my life. These organizations helped shape me into the woman I am today and I couldn’t be more thankful to be apart of their membership.

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7 Reasons Farm Kids Succeed in Life

When you go into an interview or are introducing yourself to a stranger, what do you say about yourself? Mine usually goes as so, “Hello, I’m Laura Finley a senior at UW-Madison where I am majoring in Life Sciences Communication with an emphasis in Dairy Science, which is long for Ag Marketing and Communications. I’m from Lake Mills, WI where I was fortunate enough to grow up on multiple different farms since my family actually doesn’t have a farm. I show dairy cattle at a state and national level and I am active within many organizations both on and off campus, mostly the Wisconsin Holstein Association, Badger Dairy Club and the UW-Madison Dairy Judging team.”

I’ve gotten this speech down pretty solid over the years with interviews for scholarships, internships and jobs. Most of what I have ever interviewed for had something related to agriculture, so my introduction was relevant enough to usually get someones attention. It’s not very common for someone who doesn’t have a farm to be so active within the industry, but as I said I was fortunate enough to be around people who let me grow up on their farms. So why am I giving you my background info? First, because having an agricultural background is something many employers value, in any industry. And second, because I feel many young people who are active within the Ag industry don’t emphasize it enough. This could be for many different reasons, but usually because their friends think they’re a hillbilly and have an absurd view of the Ag industry. Which is obviously a bunch of bull.

So here is why being a farm kid is actually going to help you succeed in life.

1) People know you’re hard working

When an employer sees you’ve had farm experience they usually assume you are hard working. Why? Well probably because farms are a lot of work! When you describe what you do on the farm don’t skim on the details. The littlest details that you may think are pointless to mention may show that you pay attention to details, which is a good quality to have! And the large responsibilities you have shows you can accomplish tasks successfully in a timely manner. For example, who here helped unload wagons and wagons and wagons of hay on a scolding hot summer day? I know I did. And to be honest, I don’t know if many could handle that kind of work, I would suggest it as a work out for the football team! But as I said before, it’s a large task with a short time frame which you helped get done!

2) You’ve proved you know team work

98% of farms in America are family owned, meaning when you work on a farm you are working with either your family or a family you know closely. And as many know, sometimes working with family is the hardest thing to do. But despite this challenge you learn to get along and work with each others personalities and learn what you expect from each other. This is one of the most important skills to take into a work environment and you’re lucky enough to have learned it, so use it!

3) They already assume you’re well connected

“It’s a small industry.” How many times have you heard this about the Ag industry? All. The. Time. And it’s because it’s true, although it’s an industry that feeds the world it is a very well connected industry. Which is obviously awesome! Being involved in this industry has given me friends all across North America and even some in Europe and Mexico and I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of you. The other awesome part of this is, when you meet someone new it is very likely they will know someone you know too, which makes a great channel for communication! Anyway, the point is, keep making those connections!

4)You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty

When it comes to backbreaking work, your employer is more than likely going to look at you for this. Which is not necessarily a bad thing because they know you’re reliable and because this is the kind of work that is going to stand out  to your superiors. In today’s world it is, and don’t take this wrong, pathetic to look at the work ethic kids have today. Yes I know these are strong words but it’s a common theme in today’s society. No one is entitled to a good job, or a scholarship, or a raise, or really anything. You get these things through putting in your time doing the backbreaking work, so don’t expect to get out of this just because you’re not on the farm 24/7!

5) You understand respect

Farm kids know respect…for animals, for their elders, for the land and for themselves. Many would debate this because of their ill perceived views of animal agriculture. But when those animals are your livelihood their is nothing but respect for them and their products. Farmers know the importance of treating their animals and land with respect because they are hoping to pass their farm down to the next generation with hopes to only make it better for their family. Another way I look at it is through 4-H. Growing up on a farm you were more than likely involved in 4-H with crop and livestock projects. I don’t know about you but if I didn’t respect my project, it didn’t respect me. You gain a connection with your project, you learn to trust each other, you know what each other expect and you make a routine that is best for both of you. And if that doesn’t teach you respect for others and yourself, well I don’t know what will.

6) They assume you’re flexible

Because if you’re a farm kid you know your life at one point revolved around harvest or calving season or mechanical break downs, etc. etc. So when it comes to a “professional” working environment your supervisors may throw you a few more curve balls than others but that’s because they know you can handle it. So essentially, keep on rolling with the punches!

7) Everyone knows you will be a good time!

Pretty self-explanatory. When you work as hard as a farmer you also know the appropriate time to let loose. This is one thing the Ag industry has perfected; work hard, play hard!

So next time you are talking to a new acquaintance don’t forget about your background and be loud and proud!

National Agriculture Week!

Best week of the year?! Pretty close I’d say (I mean green beer is served during this week too!), National Agriculture Week is March 15th-21st and it’s a week of celebrating and thanking those who are stewards of the land, who bare the elements to put food on our tables, who take care of their animals as if they were family. To start out the week I am going to supply you with some National Ag Fact Images and as the week goes on I’ll be focusing a bit more on the great state of Wisconsin. AKA cows, cheese and cranberries!

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Did you realize how much farmers influence your life? If this is news to you I ask you to share this post with your friends so they realize how big of an impact agriculture has on their life as well, oh and as always, thank a farmer!

Dairy Farmer Fashion Week

As a farm girl it may come as a shocker that yes, I also care about fashion. Maybe not to the level of New York Fashion Week, but I can appreciate the passion the designers put into their work. I’m more of a tight jeans, Lucchese boots and a long sleeve kind of girl but some NWFW looks caught my eye. I saw some Carrie Bradshaw inspired skirts from Ralph Lauren (if you don’t know who Carrie Bradshaw is then I don’t know you) and some Smelly Mellie (Scandal, insert popcorn and wine here) inspiration from Tibi. fb412058a9f7637d7a7888f5a5eec066 54bc195f7f35f_-_hbz-nyfw-ss2015-tibi-30 Find all the exciting highlights here http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-week/g4114/new-york-fashion-week-spring-2015/?thumbnails

Although Fashion Week is great, when it’s -30 out I can’t necessarily appreciate a sheer top or skirt, that robe though, that could be put to use.

Anyways, I’d like to show you exactly what farmers wear to impress their audience (cows).

  • To start off my day at 4:15 am I put on my sleekest 1/4 zip.
  • Then my locally made shirt of the day (Wisconsin, WDE, BDC, etc).
  • Then my choice of couture sweatshirt.
  • Next, custom made jacket.
  • Now for the bottoms (yes, plural) my go to is a pair of black slimming long under ware, layered with some retro High School sweatpants.
  • But a girl can’t forget her accessories! Every good outfit comes with head wear, and if I’ve learned anything from Blaire Waldorf, a good pair of gloves always come in handy!

So by the time I leave my apartment this is what I depart in…

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Just call me the next Kim K. Selfie pro. Side not: excuse the win bottles, sometimes it’s just necessary. 

When I get to the farm I layer up even MORE by wearing insulated bibs and boots. Disclaimer: I may exaggerate a bit more in my layering tactics than others, I was meant to live in the south. But by the time I am all ready to head out to the barn this is essentially what I look like.

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However a farmers fashion sense doesn’t just end with their rustic inspired wardrobe. We also are concerned about our animals, as usual. If you are from Wisconsin you know how cold it can get in the barn…

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But despite being able to see their breath, they look pretty happy to me!

Probably because we provide them with extra food, a nice big bed of straw and shavings and make sure everything is closed up tight. We also have a great line designed for our smaller audience.

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Here we have three of our models wearing calf jackets, available in both pink and black and then one of the more popular items, calf ear muffs! Dairy farmers strive to keep their animals warm throughout the winter months, they face all the elements the winter brings in order to keep their cattle warm, healthy and happy. In doing so they layer up themselves.

So the next time it’s -25 and you skip class because the walk is too cold or you’re in your house bundled up under blankets with your heater on, make sure to thank a farmer for the food on your table and the clothes on your back! Hope you all are able to stay warm throughout the rest of the winter months!

4 Lessons Dairy Judging Taught Me

I started judging dairy cattle through the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association when I was 10. I remember going to practices once a week, listening to the older juniors give reasons and being terrified to have to do that, I remember going over the basics with my coach every practice and asking a lot of questions. Since then not much has changed, I still went to regular practices, I still asked a lot of questions, I still practiced my reasons, a bit more vigorously though and we still regularly went over the basics. But in the 10 years of my judging career I definitely learned a lot, and not just what a good cow looks like.

Public Speaking

One of the biggest benefits I got from my years of dairy judging was becoming comfortable talking to complete strangers. And trust me, I was not always good at this (although many would say I can talk until I run out of air). It wasn’t actually until I started collegiate judging that I started to get comfortable. I decided to really buckle down; I listened to the senior’s sets of reasons, I asked for advice from my coaches and I was my biggest critic.

As I became older my reasons got better and better, I became the WI Holstein Association Princess in 2012 where I had to talk to the public constantly. On my first public appearance I realized I wasn’t even nervous because I figured, what I said to them was what I felt was the truth and what was my own opinion, if they disagreed, well so be it but hopefully I convinced them otherwise. And when I realized, that’s exactly what I do in reasons!

To relate this to the “real world”, back in October I had my first big girl interview. I traveled to Indianapolis for 8 interviews in one day and to present a power point all about myself to a conference room filled with other candidates and interviewers. Now I don’t know about you, but I think the most awkward thing to talk about is yourself. But as I started my presentation, I realized many of the other candidates seemed a lot more nervous than I. When I got to the page in my presentation about extra curricular activities, judging was the first thing that came up, I smiled and felt a overwhelming calm because I had done this plenty before. The only difference was that in judging I’m selling a cows udder, dairyness, strength, etc. and in this I was selling my intelligence, my passion, my abilities and my personality. And in case you were wondering…(drum roll please) I got the job!

Be Consistent in your Efforts

“Practices makes perfect.” Cliché I know…but if you have ever judged in a contest or even at a show, I am sure you know that perfection rarely occurs. But practice can get you pretty consistent and get you close to that “perfect contest”. During our judging season we had practices every weekend, like, I didn’t even make it to a football game this year (my liver is thanking you coaches), and we had at minimum one reasons practice during the week. So to say the least, it consumes your life for the first half of the semester. However, on behalf of my entire team, I believe we are more than thankful for all this time spent on the Bucky Bus and traveling throughout the Mid-West.

Our first contest, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we took second place team overall and first place tam in oral reasons. We took this momentum to the next step. As a senior your dream is to judge at World Dairy Expo, our team not only had the privilege to judge on the color shavings but also to win the contest! We became National Champions.

I was overwhelmed by our team but even more when I was announced as the High Individual Overall. Practice and being around my teammates made us all think in a very consistent manor and all that hard work and dedication definitely paid off in the end. We were on cloud nine, well, still are!

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Coach Brian Kelroy, myself, Cassie Endres, Mackenzie Cash, Mariah Fjarlie & Coach Chad Wethal

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Gain Connections

After being announced as the High Individual of the contest I was walking to receive my award when a coach from a different team stepped out to shake my hand and said to me, “Your grandfather managed my family’s herd dispersal and I can tell you right now, he would be so proud of you.” As you can imagine; that’s when the tears started flowing. But this was also the moment I was so incredibly grateful to be apart of such a close-knit industry.

Our team was fortunate enough to become quite close with the team from Cornell. Being able to meet others competing in the same contests is half the fun. These are the people I will be working with as I grow in my career. Everyone at these contests have very similar passions and it’s a great opportunity to get to know other individuals who you know you will be running into later on in life.

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The UW-Madison and Cornell team took first and second at the national contest and we needed to get a picture together!

And finally, after the contest it was amazing the amount of people congratulating us and introducing themselves to us. It was a great honor to win, but I think it was a greater honor to be able to meet so many influential leaders within the dairy industry who wanted to congratulate us. If I could give any advice to those in collegiate dairy judging it would be to take the great opportunity it gives you to meet others within the dairy industry. Get to know the farmers of the operations you visit, your competitors, team members and coaches, the officials of contest and those that are working in the barn.

Stay Positive

Just like anything you attempt in life, you may have some off days. I can remember in a practice this fall we were in Illinois and it was hot and sunny and we were all a bit tired. For some reason I just did not see the cows the way my teammates or coaches did, and to be honest I was pissed. Not at my coaches or at my teammates but at myself. I mean why didn’t I see it that way?! However, I did have reasons for the way I placed it and when I told my coaches they agreed that that also made sense but they would still disagree with my placing.

Well how many times do you go to a show and hear someone disagree with the placing? Quite often. But that’s the perk about being the judge; on that day it’s your opinion. As long as you are confident in what you saw you can’t take what others say directly to heart. Everyone has their right to their own opinion!

Through dairy judging I’ve learned many life lessons, but these four have stuck with me throughout the past 10 years. If you or anyone you know may have an interest in this traditional dairy activity I encourage you to join and take advantage of all the opportunities dairy judging brings your way!

Oh and ON WISCONSIN!

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The seniors of the UW-Madison Dairy Judging Team. We were on our way to Arethusa Farm in Connecticut.

You are no Bae, no Bae at all

Are you a bae? A “before anything else”? How cute.

To be honest I think bae is the sound a sheep makes, but that’s just my opinion!

But are you dating a farmer, dairy farmer to exact? If so, you are no bae, you are no bae at all.

Does this hurt your feelings? Get over it. It’s never changing. Because they have a different bae in their life. Yes that’s right, a different bae, probably a bit more important bae. Why? Well she needs them all day, everyday. And she relies on them on all aspects of her life. What a needy bish huh?!

I get why though. They don’t have to wait for her to call. She is always patiently waiting on them. They know exactly what she needs in her life. She’s got no silly drama. She is pretty much the perfect girl! Do you hate her already? Don’t worry, you’ll learn to love her (promise)!

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Really though…isn’t she cute?!

Was that a real surprise though? Probably not. Anyone who has ever dated a farmer knows that the girls in the barn come first and you come second, yes, even on Valentines Day. Do you blame them though?? I mean,the ladies in the barn were their first love.

But how do you know they love them?! (Insert world famous eye roll here) Well probably because it’s -30 out and they are out there with them instead of cuddling (puke) in bed with you. Or because you are on your way to a wedding but you have to stop at the barn to check on them, causing you to be late. Or because you won’t be able to go out to dinner before 7:30 pm because they have to finish taking care of their girls. Or simply because she will always come before you (unless you’re going into labor or something adult like that; and even then it’s questionable).

Now the question is, how do you overcome “the other woman” then? To make it simple, get with the program. You have to start loving her as well. So here’s a few tips on how to spend your V-Day if you can’t go out for a night on the town due to the other bae.

  1. Help with chores so you can get done earlier and you can spend the rest of your evening smooshing each other, genius, I know.
  2. Make up a pitcher of their favorite cocktail (margarita, martini, crown and coke, etc, etc.) and take it to them in the barn to start the night off with a bit of a wiggly walk.
  3. Make dinner. You can either wait for them to be done or you could do the farming version of breakfast in bed, what I like to call, food in a cooler.
  4. Don’t waste your money on flowers, chocolates, cards, etc. instead get them something he/she (farmers are men and women people) and his/her bae (cow) both could benefit from…like good grass hay, or new boots, or new bibs, or new gloves, or wash supplies, or a new set of blades…really anything you could buy at Fleet Farm or Nasco would do the trick!

Anyways, I hope you all are fortunate enough to have found a significant other that shares the same passion as you do and if not well…I hope you enjoy your Valentines Day with your farmer and all their bae’s!

Show Ring Shaped

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I unfortunately don’t have my own dairy farm, so to stay active within the dairy industry I spend most of my time on the show side of things. However, the show industry is only a small portion of dairy industry. And it’s not the side of the industry you join simply for fame and fortune. So if there is not a quick ROI or a promised blue ribbon then why are so many dairy enthusiasts active on the show side of the industry?

Well in many families it’s a tradition, maybe you joined 4-H and started it as a simple project and got hooked like the rest of us. It could also be that you get to work with your friends everyday or maybe that you were lucky enough to work with an animal who changed your life with only one show season. However, I think it’s because we like the person the show circuit turns us into. No matter how old or young you are you are always learning and developing, not only your animals but yourself.

Persistence 

Having a show animal is all about the small details, and repeating these small efforts day in and day out. It’s hard work. And if anyone doubts that, well then they’ve never had the privilege to walk on the colored shavings at the big dance. It’s waking up earlier, cleaning out stalls, getting rid of old feed they won’t eat, cleaning waterers, re-bedding, constantly growing hair, clipping routinely, finding hay they’re satisfied with, scheduled hoof trimmings; like I said all the small details! But doing all this doesn’t just teach you how to get a heifer or cow ready for the show. It teaches you time management, respect for other breeders and exhibitors and the ability to believe in yourself and your abilities. It teaches you to become open minded, to be determined and to be proud.

Patience 

Anyone who’s worked with animals before know they definitely don’t read our minds. I mean if they could, they’re doing everything in their power to try and undermine us simple humans. We treat them like princesses, it kind of reminds me of this…(que disney intro music!)

However, unlike Palo, we are doing this to more than one princess, we have a barn full! It’s like having children, taking care of their every beckon call, making sure their happy and healthy. In doing so you become extremely patient with their transformation, from frizzy haired outcasts to prim and perfect princesses. Some days are longer than others, but it teaches us that all good things come with time and a whole lot of elbow grease.

Forgiveness

When doing anything in life, things can go wrong, things can plain out fail. It may be your fault, someone else’s fault or a group effort. But you can’t let that get you down. In my experience I’ve had cattle get hurt, sick or simply don’t turn out on show day. Sure it pisses you off, like a lot, after all that effort you’ve been putting into her and she lets you down like that?! But despite the major disappointment you forgive and learn from the situation. Why did it happen? How can you change the outcome at the next show? Forgiveness is essential in any aspect of life though. With family, friends, animals; to continue your success you  simply gotta “shake it off” and keep going!

Laugh 

Now prior to this category, I have slipped up quite a bit, however laughing and loving what I do is one thing I am a pure expert at! The dairy industry is known for making life long friends. I am fortunate enough to have a group of amazing people I can call friends and 95% of them I compete with at state and national levels. When you walk through a barn at a show, whether that’s a county fair, a district or state show or even Expo, you will see people working their butts off. You will also see the same people enjoying a cold cocktail, smiling, laughing, conversing about their animals and catching up on old times. When you ask most of us what our favorite season is, 99% of the time the answer is “show season”. Showing dairy cattle teaches you to love what you do, to be immensely involved in it and to put 100% into your work.

Stay Humble

We all know there are elite herds and we all know there are beginners. But no matter what end of the spectrum you are on, winning of loosing with grace is a skill you can value in any aspect of life. Those on the winning end, people look up to you to learn from, to admire and to congratulate. Staying humble in your success says more about your character than you ever could. And those who are just beginning, remember that those who are above you were at one point a beginner too. They put in their time and work to get where they are. I think a key concept to remember at shows, or work, or even at home would be “Two things define you: your patience when you have nothing, and your attitude when you have everything.”

Leadership

Most of us started showing when we were just in little briches. I can still remember who I looked up to when I was at my county fair, who I started to learn from when I went to district shows, who I first tied with at Expo (and pretty much stalked their every step). As we grow in this industry we are reminded that we always have eyes on us, many of which are young and prying. We learn to be the leaders that we admired growing up, and I think that is something to aspire to. If I could help juniors as much as I was helped through my junior career I’d feel accomplished with my involvement in the Holstein industry. Being a leader is more than helping others get their purple ribbon, it’s about helping others aspire to be the best version of themselves they can be.

So although we all really appreciate being pulled first or selling an animal for high profit, what I think has all of us coming back show season after show season is all the non tangible gifts the show industry gives us.